Attention All Colleges: Cursive Writing is Now on You

Earlier this year, while sitting in an Appalachian History class, the professor began a random post test discussion on hand writing. Obviously this was not a part of the lecture notes but just one of those beautiful insights one can get in a college classroom. When the class engaged in this subject, I made the remark that I used the archaic form of handwriting known as cursive. My cohorts thought it was humorous. Only a few of them, like myself, wrote in cursive. The rest obviously wrote in standard print. The reason I made the original comment is because as a teacher I’ve noticed my students in the high school classroom never use cursive. On top of that, those same students cannot read my notes on their papers because I write in cursive. Why is this? Why do more students of my generation know cursive but the next generations do not. Although I would love to claim intellectual superiority here, I know that is not the answer. The real answer actually adds truth to my joke above. Cursive, at least in the eyes of the public school system, seems to have become archaic.

A report done in January by ABC News found that a total of forty-one states adopted the Common Core State Standards for English (CCSSE). The CCSSE, set by the Council of Chief State School Officers (CCSSO) and the National Governors Association (NGA), sets a general framework of content for students to learn before going to college. This new framework does not include cursive writing. States can, however, opt to include cursive writing. Massachusetts and California being among two that have. It appears the state of Georgia, will not be one of those schools to opt for inclusion. As the country “moves forward” in education, cursive writing is definitely taking a back seat.

Most states fall under the requirements of No Child Left Behind and other various standardized tests. Schools’ academic qualities are based on how well their students do on those tests. Curricula is created and driven in order to help students excel on those tests. How do standardized tests affect cursive writing? Well, the tests affect this writing style because it is not used or required on any of these tests. Because schools, counties, and states feel enormous pressure to maintain government regulated testing averages, curriculum ends up being created for the test. Subjects not included on the tests fall in between the cracks. Such is the case for cursive writing. Testing is not, however, the only argument against cursive writing.

Some advocates of removing cursive writing, which may very well include current students, argue that it is not needed. The argument is that cursive writing is not the way of the future. In these advocates’ minds, it is not dropping cursive writing, but replacing it with various keyboard skills. This makes sense when you think about about the modern student and put emphasis on the amount of time they spend online or texting their peers. Some parents simply are not convinced and it appears they have science to back them up.

Although it is definitely apparent in this modern world that typing is important, according to Neuroscience handwriting is more important. From the ABC News report, Anne Mangen at the University of Stavanger’s Reading Centre stated that “handwriting seems, based on empirical evidence from neuroscience, to play a larger role in the visual recognition and learning of letters.” In short, just as ABC summarizes, those that write by hand learn better. With this evidence cited in the ABC report, why take writing out of the curriculum? Well for one, this move by the NGA is not erasing writing per say but the art of cursive writing. It appears that the implement of an extra writing form is time consuming and counter productive to the future use of the keyboard and/or learning. I do not anticipate that writing itself will disappear. The first typewriter came out in the 1860’s c.e. yet humanity uses handwriting even today. I think we can safely say that the “keyboarding is the future,” argument for getting rid of cursive writing, is just as weak as the counter argument that “humans will not be able to hand write anymore” with the increased use of keyboarding.

Greek Manuscript in cursive, 6th century c.e.

Why keep cursive writing at all? Well, because like it or not,  cursive writing, in one form or another, is apart of human history. Cursive writing can be traced as far back as the 6th century c.e. Now that may not be important to the public school system. Public schools already have access to Machiavelli’s The Prince in standard print. But to higher education, cursive means a lot more.Yes as a Historian I can use an internet printout of Thomas Jefferson’s Declaration of Independence accessed here. But to me that is unethical and shoddy history. I need (emphasis on that word) that original document. Obviously that is hard to get given the amount of security and how much the document is fading over time. But it is still there for me to see. And sadly, for some, it is written in that archaic form known as cursive writing. Not only is the DOI written in cursive but it is famous for the beauty of its content and appearance. What a shame it would be to not be able to read it first hand.(Digital image and Digital Copy)

So what does this mean for today’s colleges? Cursive writing may need to be treated as a foreign language. For masters programs, it probably needs to be a requirement to “translate” a document out of cursive and into print. Students of History, Political Science, Sociology, Psychology, Geology, Biology, Chemistry, etc. need to able to read and understand the first hand accounts and journal notes of those that came before them. It is not a matter of intellectual superiority but of practicality. Future scholars must be able to read the notes of those that came before and not the second hand transcriptions. Since cursive writing is being phased out in the public schools, colleges are going to have to adapt and pick up the slack.

5 Tips to Effectively Show Historical Films in Class

The practice of showing historically-based films in class has been scrutinized by scholars as a “double edged sword” of opposing positives and negatives.  Films can be beneficial through their use as a visual aid and supplemental resource for the students’ acquisition of knowledge.  But on the other hand, films can provide fictional information which students may take as fact as well as placing students in the position of being passive participants in the learning process.

There are ways to effectively implement the use of historical films to bolster the class’s understanding of the time period and themes being discussed in the course.  Films can be a powerful tool for teachers if they are used correctly and efficiently.

1. Provide the Students with the Proper Context

Any competent teacher should already know this and probably tell the students what they are about to watch.  But sometimes that is not enough.  The film should not be used as the students’ primary form of understanding the content, nor should it be their first.

Teachers should work up the context of the film at least a day before the class watches the movie.  Films are better understood and can be viewed more critically AFTER the students understand the overarching themes, conflicts, and customs of the period and setting.

2. Don’t Show the Whole Film

This is especially true if you are showing a monstrosity of a movie elapsing over two hours.  There are a lot of negative consequences to showing a long film for over one class period.  Student attention and retention declines especially if they know they will be sitting in the dark going into class that day.

The visual element in films is great in a Differentiated Instruction sense, and to accomplish this teachers do not need to show the entire film.  Certain scenes can illustrate the period’s theme, customs, and setting. For example, Monty Python and the Holy Grail has great isolated scenes depicting feudalism, serfdom, and the plague.

Scenes can provide their own context to the teacher’s lesson to the class, but it remains important that the students must have a basic understanding of what they are about to watch for them to possibly gain a higher level of understanding of the content.

3. Stop the Film periodically for Class Discussion

If showing the film in its entirety is the most effective way for the class to understand the message you want to understand, then the movie should be a point of continuing discussion rather than an uninterrupted sitting.  Similar to what was previously mentioned in “not showing the entire film,” students can become apathetic and disassociated with the material if there is no stimulation for a lengthy period of time.

To remedy this dilemma, teachers should stop the movie after pivotal moments and allow the class to discuss what they just saw.  The benefits in doing this cannot be overlooked.  Along with breaking up the monotony and providing much-needed stimulation, students have a chance to analyze the important concepts as well as updating struggling students who may be lost or didn’t understand prominent facets essential to understanding the course content.

4. Proper Note-Taking

Many teachers require students to perform some act of note-taking to confirm both their understanding of what they’re watching and that they were watching in the first place.  Possibly the worst way this is implemented is by teachers handing out sheets with completed sentences where the students must fill in the missing words which they learn through watching the film.  This is incredibly ineffective because students listen for key words rather than thinking critically about the content.

Another poor strategy to avoid is that of assigning a minimum requirement for note-taking for students to complete during films.  This is especially problematic when students fulfill their quota within the first 10-15 minutes of the film then fade into a more passive role for the remainder of the film.  Quota systems are also flawed because the students don’t have any direction in what they should be looking for and analyzing.

For the teacher to promote critical thinking about the material, the students should take notes which straddle a middle ground between overly controlled fill-in-the-blanks and an aimless quota system.  This can be best achieved through giving the students a limited amount of questions which not only require them to focus on the entire film, but also guide their attention to the most pivotal aspects.

“In Casablanca, how does the change in Rick’s actions mirror those of the United States in World War II?”

A limited amount of questions allows the class to evaluate the film as whole and to draw their own connections.  For maximum potential, questions should not be based on rote memorization.  Instead, the questions should require students to make connections to previous lessons, analyze character developments, and synthesize plot points and conflicts.

The benefit of utilizing film is in its imagery and re-creation of events.  Students should be asked to interpret images, icons, costumes, and settings, to connect these concepts to the content in general.

5. Emphasize the Distinction between Fact and Fiction

Outside of documentaries, films are hardly historically accurate.  This deficiency in film is one of the strongest arguments against their use in the classroom.  Studies have been conducted illustrating poor student performance based on their retention of fictional elements in films presented to the class.

This is where all the aforementioned ideas correlate to bring forth a solution to this problem.  Students must have an understanding of the film’s context to be able to properly decipher fact from fiction.  Before the class is shown the film, some of the more glaring or detrimental fictional elements should be addressed in order for students to not misread the story and context of the film.

The Amount of Historical Inaccuracies in this film would be too much

If the film is being watched in its entirety and the film is divided into sections for discussion, the teacher should facilitate an analysis of factual information with the class.  Students should be encouraged to look for and write down elements in the film which appear dubious or inaccurate.  By having the class look for historical inaccuracies, they must first know what is accurate in the film, establishing an analytical theme in the film.

Similar to discussing inaccurate elements in the film, students should be encouraged in their film notes to periodically describe an aspect of the film which they believe to be untrue and to write down what would have made it historically accurate.  It is important for students to understand what WOULD be true and to emphasize fact over fiction.

In short, the value of films in the classroom can be seen in the process of requiring students to think critically about the content presented to them.  Films can be beneficial in developing learning skills and in exercising students’ analytical abilities, which is a cornerstone of the social sciences.

How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love Facebook: The Unlikely Union of Teachers and Social Media

Oh, that loathsome Facebook, the great distractor of students.  It is difficult for teachers to facilitate a classroom when the students are preoccupied with liking status updates or looking at pictures of their friends from last weekend.  Whether in the computer lab or on smartphones, Facebook continues to be a technological threat.  It is a sworn enemy to  educators.

But what if Facebook and teachers were able come to some form of truce?  What if they could join forces and somehow learn to love each other?  For tech-savvy history teachers this notion can easily become a reality.  Signs of this lesson could be seen in College Humor’s Facebook History.

The idea is simple; maybe even a little too simple.  What if students were not just allowed but encouraged to use Facebook to chat with classmates?  Their response would be predictable although it is not clear how teachers would benefit from this allowance.  And this is where we see the catch…students would not be allowed to chat on their personal profiles, but rather a fictional profile of the historical figure they were assigned!

To put it more clearly, students would all be using Facebook under their fictional historical profiles.  For those who ever wondered how King George III would have reacted to Thomas Jefferson’s status update stating, “My draft of the Declaration of Independence has been ratified by the Continental Congress.  America is now free and independent from Great Britain!”  Or what about Pope Leo X’s reaction after looking at his news feed and seeing that Martin Luther had posted the Ninety-Five Theses and already has thousands of likes?

Along with Facebook (which most responsible schools have banned), a more responsible and adequate resource is blogging websites.  I can imagine WordPress or Blogger would make ideal substitutes.

HOW IT WORKS

I see this type of lesson working great with history teachers who are entering a unit which has a wealth of important figures (i.e. American Revolution, World War II, The Protestant Reformation, The Fall of the Roman Republic, etc.) for the students to be assigned.  Throughout the unit as the class learns the material in whichever fashion the teacher deems fit, the students will continue to chat and possibly battle on Facebook.

My preferred method of implementing this strategy is using it as a complementary piece to the core unit and instruction.  Students (either assigned or having signed up for a figure) are then to make a Facebook page about them.  Initially, the students fill out the information on their figure for a grade.

Students explain their figure’s biography, quotes, location, and time period.

As the unit progresses, students are required to comment on classmate’s status updates or photo albums.  This requires them to understand their character, what their motives/objectives are, and who they see as a friend or foe.  Communication is based on what their figure would say in a situation, not them.

Of course, the instructor will have his/her hands full with this assignment.  Along with proctoring the language/ content between students and ensuring they have met the requirements, teachers must instigate conflict.  This is where (for some – hopefully all) teachers get to have their own personal fun and be creative.

Say you are teaching a unit on the American Revolution and the class is at the Declaration of Independence.  The teacher can create their own page (or have a student assigned to it) called “The Second Continental Congress” and assign the class to chat on this page as their characters, asking “What would John Adams say about loyalty to the British?” or “What would George Washington say?” then abruptly scold the student who spoke on the page as him since Washington did not participate in the Second Continental Congress.

That latter part of those questions holds weight.  Playing off the theme of Assessment for Learning (this will be highlighted in my next post) for any student who mistakenly appears in a location they were not meant to or an uncharacteristic comment is provided by a figure, the class (and most importantly the student who committed the error) must understand WHY this was wrong and understand what could have been used in its place.

Teachers can make pages concerning battles, events, conferences, treaties, or any other important element related to the unit.  The Facebook discussion can continue throughout the unit through time allotted during class and (if possible) for homework.  I understand that there are multiple ways in which this lesson would be prohibited in schools, so an alternative is detailed later.

GRADING THIS PROJECT

This project-based assessment (or assignment if you wish) involves a great deal of time and energy from the teacher for the assessment/assignment to be productive, but the benefits which it could produce are well worth the effort.  “Historical Facebook” is an ongoing portfolio-based body of work which evolves during the unit.  The student can be graded on multiple levels and at various times for their work on their figure.

The initial grade comes from a completion of their page and its info section.  Each character’s url address is sent and monitored by the teacher.  Weekly marks can be made by evaluating student effort and performance.  Perhaps a minimum of two posts and four comments each week based on their character’s involvement and portrayal would suffice, depending on the class.

The students’ overall performance can be evaluated by the teacher in accordance to the rubric.  Hopefully by the end of the unit, a vast collection of exchanges and events will allow the class to look over their fictional Facebook universe and see which characters said or did what.

IF FACEBOOK CANNOT BE USED

For many schools or even teachers, the prospect of using Facebook within the classroom is heavily frowned upon.  I respect this viewpoint and suggest an alternative.  Instead of using online media to facilitate discussion, teachers could have students create physical forms of their status updates through poster boards or large sheets of paper from the art room.

Classmates can walk around and look at other poster boards commenting on status updates in their character.  Although this prohibits multimedia and centrality of content, the use of physical displays of content over using social networking has many benefits.

Students are not tempted at the chance to surf the internet or go on their personal Facebook profile, is the most obvious advantage.  The class is less tempted to say something crude or insulting if they must write their words in the middle of the class instead of behind a computer screen.

CONCLUSION

This lesson strategy is an acquired taste.  Not all history teachers will be persuaded to participate in this time and energy draining exercise.  But nonetheless, the incorporation of Facebook and education is not just a reality, but an outlet for creativity and fun.

Students are required to think critically, engage in historical dialogues, and embrace the mentality of their figure, all while using social networking media.  But the ultimate question which needs to be answered before any of this happens Is if this a strategy teachers should invest in or is it asking for trouble.

Animated History: Allowing Students to “Play” History

Teaching the Civil War is a favorite of mine. I grew up near a major Civil War battlefield. In hindsight, I credit that to my current passion for history. I think many teachers can share in that sentiment and that passion for their subject. Our students however, are another story. How do we as educators, make our subject “pop” for our students? For History teachers; how do we make the past come alive? Here is one such way.

I’ve recently stumbled across a website entitled History Animated. This website gives students a narrative history for the major battles of the Civil War, Revolutionary War, and World War II (both Europe and Pacific). A narrative of these battles is nothing new but History Animated takes it a step further. Each narrative is wonderfully displayed through the use of maps and graphics that take the readers through each stage of the battle. In History Animated’s own words:

If a picture is worth a thousand words, a good animation is worth ten thousand. After reading book after book about the Pacific War and finding only complicated maps with dotted lines and dashed lines crisscrossing the pages, we decided to depict the key naval and land battles using animation technology.

The use of animation is an intriguing  concept to use while teaching. Teachers can narrate the battles as they happen before the students’ eyes; or teachers can simply assign an independent study of the battles using the website. Included with the narrative are assorted facts of history that allow students to click off of the battle and explore more micro concepts. The animation puts the students in control essentially. Which allows the students to advance at his/her own pace as they progress.

With this assignment, a great RAFT project can be assigned by having students keep a “Civil War Diary” and write from a soldier’s POV at the conclusion of each day.

Using your Smartphone/Tablet in Place of an Interactive Whiteboard

Does lack of funding got you down. I have this amazing feeling of want. I “want” a SmartBoard for my classroom. Due to funding though, the school does not see me “want” as a “need.” What’s a teacher to do? Well…..how about turning your Smartphone/Tablet into an interactive presentation tablet. From your device you can control the PowerPoints running on your laptop across the room. Access your computer’s functions such as the internet and other documents files. I haven’t had the chance to implement this in the classroom. I am hoping to do that tomorrow. I have spent the last hour in my house walking around changing the music on my computer from my phone, bringing up random pictures and power point presentations with ease. The touchscreen even allows me to work the mouse on the computer. Interested? All you need are a few simply products.

Sadly the directions I am about to give are for the use of an Android. All of these features can be accessed using Apple technology just make sure you download the right software. For Android users, lets get started. First you need to download the GMote App for your phone. You can get it here. Once that is downloaded to your phone/tablet, you will need the appropriate software for your laptop located here. Once you have done both of those things, simply follow the directions here.

Be patient and follow the directions. Best of luck!

Setting Up A Digital Classroom

This new age of technology is something that educators can either use, abuse, or get trampled by. Let’s face it. Our students probably will read less than fifty percent of assigned readings except for a few of them. They probably read less than eight books a year. However these same students probably read several thousand Facebook profiles. Even though we assign them a paper to write they students are writing less and less yet they probably produce several hundred pages of written text in the form of Facebook comments/statuses, blog posts, E-mails and text messages. You might see the students in the classroom an hour to two hours a day. In that time period you are probably fighting the struggle of no texting in class. In short, teachers are constantly competing for the students’ attention in this technological age. I say roll with the punches and go digital. One of the things I have started, is instead of having the kids keep static journals, is have them create online blogs. I had them use Google Blogger as it is the easiest to set up and they don’t really need to the multiple functions that WordPress has. This blog will serve the same purpose as a static journal. When we close out a chapter, I will assign them a project to write and reflect on the subjects we just learned about as well as relate that material to today. Or in other words, they will have to find some modern comparisons or issues that stem from historical problems. I have also set up a classroom blog for the kids to access and ask me questions directly that other students in the class can see. Another angle I have began exploring is online quizzing.

I have begun using the website QuizStar. It takes a little setting up. It allows you to set time limits on the quizzes, a window of opportunity in which the quiz can be taken, and also it allows you to set the number of times the students can actually take the quiz. You also have to get the students to get on the website and register into your class. This is ideal though once you get it all set up. Set up a lab day and have the students do this under your supervision. QuizStar allows you to grade quizzes easily without looking at papers. You can also isolate the most missed questions so you as a teacher know what to go over again. And to top it off, you do not have to spend 20 minutes in class testing the students, and then grading afterwards because the quiz can be done for a homework assignment.

I will write another post later to talk about the results of this new adventure in teaching. Hopefully I can reach a few students in between Facebook status updates.

A new idea

In our haste to finish off material before the midterm exam we are having to postpone a project until next semester. You can imagine the dismay of the students….. However, they did agree with me that it would serve them best to have some sort of project to add another project grade to the grade book. Racking my brain for an idea I began to remember the Michael Welsch videos I posted. I decided to try something digital. I am going to get the students to open up a blog. More than likely they will use blogger given its easy interface (sorry WordPress). I am still working on the fine details of this but I am thinking on having the students create their blog and make three small 500 word blog posts on various topics. I see some promise in using some digital technology in the classroom. The students can use their blog as a journal for homework grades and so on. The possibilities seem limitless.